For one weekend each year, you can travel the world without leaving the UK…
If you took a passport to WOMAD, I guarantee you’d run out of space for stamps. The UK’s biggest world music festival features artists from so many countries you need a GCSE in geography just to read the line-up. And it’s not just the music that clocks up air miles – the food here spans the continents, too.
This year, I decided to put the festival to the test and see just how many countries I could ‘visit’ in the space of three days. Armed with flip flops (optimistic), wellies (realistic) and a programme full of names I couldn’t pronounce, I set off on a weekend of globetrotting without once stepping foot on a plane.
Friday kicked off with a fleeting visit to Mali, courtesy of desert blues band Tamikrest, swiftly followed by a tour of the UK, Venezuela, Nigeria and Ghana – all in one hit. Family Atlantica hail from all of the countries above, and the name explains their musical style – a fusion of African and Latin rhythms that criss-crosses the Atlantic Ocean. Which leads us to our next destination: Cuba, whose northern coast hems the Atlantic. Dubstep pioneer Mala was so inspired by a visit to the island’s capital, Havana, he recorded Mala in Cuba on his return. Needless to say, his set went down a storm at WOMAD, and provided the soundtrack to dinner: vegetable thali and samosas straight from India (via the Madras Café.)
Saturday morning, after coffee and bacon butties (I had fully intended to join the early-morning Tai Chi session, before I smelled the bacon), it was off to Malawi. When they’re not delighting crowds with their music, the Malawi Mouse Boys are earning a crust selling cooked mice to passing traffic on Malawi’s busy highways. And if that’s not enough to make you like them, their uplifting gospel music is pretty fabulous, too. From there it was a quick hop over to Brazil for Flavia Coelho, who blends a bit of samba, a bit of bossa nova and a bit of ragga to create a sound that – unsurprisingly – deserves a genre all of its own. For lunch, we eenie-meenie-minie-mo-d our way around the food stalls and settled on spicy jerk chicken from the Caribbean Kitchen, devoured as we listened to Portugal’s up-and-coming fado star, Carminho. Dessert came in the form of churros – sugared donuts dipped in chocolate – and flamenco six-piece Amesmalua, both courtesy of Spain.
After a bit of a breather (hideous jet-lag), we joined the crowd for Osibisa, an afro-rock collective who tick off Ghana, Antigua, Jamaica and the US between them. Unfortunately for us, their biggest hit – Sunshine Day – had no bearing on the afternoon’s weather, and our waterproofs held out just long enough to catch Mali’s Rokia Traore, pick up nachos and chilli beef from Mexico (via the Mexican Cantina) and take refuge in the shelter of our tent for the night.
With the weather back on form, we sat in the sunshine to watch our first act of the day – Italy’s Canzionere Grecanico Salentino. They specialise in pizzica, the folk song and dance of the region of Salento. Legend has it, the pizzica was once a cure for snake and tarantula bites, although we didn’t have cause to test that theory (the perils of Wiltshire’s wildlife being limited to the odd mozzie bite). Instead, we stopped for a Goan fish curry – fish fresh from Cornwall, recipes all the way from India – rounded off with a hot, milky cup of chai.
Later, we danced to the brass-heavy sound of Riot Jazz, who – with song titles like ‘cheesy chips’ and a frontman called MC Chunky (I don’t think it’s another chip reference) – could only hail from the UK. And from there it was straight on to Edinburgh-based Hidden Orchestra, whose moody electronic jazz provided another weekend highlight.
By now it had been at least a couple of hours since we last ate, so we hotfooted it to the Moorish Souk Food tent. I plumped for a spicy lamb bourek – a kind of fat, filo pastry parcel oozing with goats’ cheese and lamb meat that’s popular in places like Morocco. That was swiftly followed by a sweet square of baklava – a honey-nut pastry parcel that’s a mainstay on the menu in Greece.
Dinner sorted, there was just enough time left to tick off Brazil’s Gilberto Gil on the open air stage, followed by a reggae set courtesy of DJ David Rodigan MBE. And as we wandered sleepily back to our tent – a grand total of 19 countries ticked off – the strains of a familiar tune wafted on the wind. Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’. But on the bagpipes. Now you won’t hear that at Glastonbury…
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Author: Katie Gregory
Published: August 2, 2013
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